When I was asked to a write an article about Nurse Mona about her 43 years working in Revelstoke, I didn’t know her last name. It turns out, I’m not alone.
“Lots of my patients don’t even know my last name. They just ask for Mona,” she told me one day earlier this month at the Selkirk Medical Clinic.
Mona Baron is retiring this month after 43 years working as a nurse in Revelstoke, including an amazing 40 years at the clinic. She started at the old Queen Victoria Hospital, when it was located where Cooper’s is today, and has seen the clinic through several renovations to what it is today.
Baron grew up in the Okanagan where she always wanted to be a nurse. As a little girl she had a doctor’s kit she would play with, she told me. After graduating from high school, she registered in nursing school at the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, B.C. There, she learned the ins and outs of nursing, alternating between classroom courses and the job training.
She came to Revelstoke after graduating in 1970, starting at the old Queen Victoria Hospital. It was winter, it was snowy, and she found a place to live downtown, where she was able to walk to work.
“It was quite familiar to me because the Royal Columbian at the time I trained had large wards with 13, 14, 15 people in a ward,” she said. “That’s the same as the old hospital here.”
There, she would care for all the patients, bathing them, dressing them, feeding them. “Whatever there was to do, you just did it.”
After a year, the hospital moved to its location in Arrow Heights. Two years later, Baron started working at the Selkirk Medical Clinic, not long after it opened its doors. In 1973, the clinic was much smaller than it is today and there were also fewer doctors than there are now; there are 10 now compared to five when Baron started. As a result, the clinic has gone through two major renovations since it opened.
The physical space of the clinic isn’t the only change Baron has noticed. She’s also witnessed the changes in technology that has impacted the job, notably the switch to electronic records from paper records.
“Years ago we had to physically enter every lab result and they’d take days to come and we’d have reams and reams of paper,” she said. “Now everything’s in the computer.”
Technology has also meant for more knowledgeable patients, who are able to do a bit of self-diagnosis before showing up at the clinic, and can research drugs online. “But they still need guidance for certain,” she said.
What gets people sick hasn’t changed too much, she said. There’s still the basic ailments like heart problems, gastrointestinal issues and stomach problems. Now, though, it’s easier to diagnose patients and get them treatment. Getting back X-ray results is much quicker. No longer do they need to be packaged up and sent to a radiologist out of town; these days the X-rays can be scanned onto a computer and sent to a radiologist for diagnosis instantly. All of this has meant things move at a faster pace.
Baron didn’t intend to stay in Revelstoke for 43 years. When she first moved here, it was a place to work for a bit, but then she met her husband Bob, and since they both had good jobs here, they stayed.
“I never ever thought I’d be here in one place that long,” she said. “I didn’t intend to stay that long, it just worked out that way. It was just a job to come to and perhaps move on.”
Baron’s colleagues praised her for caring for everyone and everything – she even watered the plants in the clinic – and for making the best lemon squares.
“She pulled more warts off more kids than anyone,” one said. “It will be hard to find someone as dedicated.”
Baron didn’t have any crazy patient stories to tell me – or if she did she was sticking to nurse-patient confidentiality – but she did have some memories, like the day the clinic flooded, or the many Christmas lunches. She spoke fondly of her regular patients that we should treat first thing in the morning before work. She said she loved hearing stories of the old days of Revelstoke from her older patients. There were also the tragedies; two people died in the clinic during her time.
“It’s an ordinary life. It’s just I’ve been at it so long,” she said. “There’s been good days and bad days, tragic things that have happened to some of the people in the clinic.”
She said she’s ready for retirement; already she’s only been working two days a week for the last few years. Her husband is already retired and they plan on spending their time fly fishing, hiking and in the garden.
Her favourite thing about being a nurse was the satisfaction of being able to help people. “Whatever help they needed, I was able to give it,” she said.
“I always said the most grateful patients were the ones I cleaned their ears so they could hear again.”